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State papers: Hurdles faced in transporting Prime Minister's gift horse amused No.10

A note from Prime Minister John Major to diplomat Laura Brady thanking her for her account of transporting a horse from Turkmenistan
A note from Prime Minister John Major to diplomat Laura Brady thanking her for her account of transporting a horse from Turkmenistan

By Thomas Hornall

Farcical bureaucratic hurdles faced by a British diplomat attempting to transport a birthday present horse given to John Major are outlined in the Government documents.

Cables reveal the absurd obstacles and delays faced by Laura Brady as she tried to get Maksat, a pure-bred Akhal-Teke stallion, from Moscow to London.

Mr Major, who was presented the horse by Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niyazov for his 50th birthday in 1993, wrote that her "splendid account" was one of the "most enjoyable" documents filed into his pigeon hole.

The cable sent in October 1993, titled Horses: The Definitive End Of An Era, describes the days and hours before Maksat and another horse gifted to French President Francois Mitterrand arrived in Moscow's quarantine stables awaiting passage to London and France.

Both horses survived a raid by armed bandits on the carriage in rural Kazakhstan and made it to Moscow after four-and-a-half days and hundreds of miles of travel from Turkmenistan.

At customs in the Russian capital, Ms Brady tells the receptionist about the horses' ordeal, which "elicited in response the sad tale of the Finnish ambassador's parrot".

It goes on: "The receptionist, an animal lover and close to tears at the thought of the parrot, relented and led us through a maze of ceiling-high packing cases in the enormous warehouse.

"And there we found the staff of the twelfth diplomatic customs post playing poker.

"Fifteen dollars poorer but with the customs formalities completed we hotfooted it to the station accounts office in south Moscow..."

But finding it closed, they returned the next day to discover that as the horses had been in the station for 24 hours they needed to be rechecked by a vet.

The cable continues: "The vet was in her office adding up extremely slowly a long list of figures on a calculator with dodgy batteries.

"The numbers kept fading, at which point she began again at the top of the list."

After an hour of this frustrating scene they got the necessary paperwork.

But as preparations were made to transport the horse-box, Ms Brady noticed the three grooms who had travelled with the animals "began to carry countless sacks of potatoes, onions, carrots and at least 200 large melons".

It adds: "One groom explained that as Turkmenistan had no post-1992 banknotes they were forced to bring wares to sell in Moscow to be able to buy the return ticket to Ashkabad."

The manure-filled carriage had to be cleaned before they could leave the railway siding, so a train driver was bribed with "several particularly large" melons to move down the track where it could be "unceremoniously scraped out onto the track".

With both horses finally in quarantine awaiting transit, Ms Brady signs off: "I have made some useful contacts over the last few days so the next time we want to import a horse to Russia it will be a doddle."

Mr Major wrote a thank you note, saying: "Your splendid account of how to put a Turkmeni horse into quarantine was the most enjoyable document the Private Office have put into my weekend box in a very long time.

"I am most grateful to you for your valiant and amusing efforts, in this noble cause."

Maksat eventually settled in stables in Carmarthenshire, Wales, after being deemed too temperamental by the Household Cavalry.

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